When the Merely Political becomes Morally Outrageous

Today I’m writing an overtly political post, and one that I’m sure you’ll find uncomfortable to read — though not nearly as uncomfortable as it must have been for the young woman experiencing it. I hope you’ll be uncomfortable. Better yet, I hope that discomfort will move you, as it did me. 

This is a political story, political in the way that I like to use political — it’s a story that shows the moral implications for real people of policy decisions made in a vacuum. It’s also a personal story, and politics at its best is personal. You know that, instinctively. 

What is not so instinctive is realizing how much power we as individuals actually have — especially when we join together. And I can think of no more powerful incentive to action than Moral Outrage.

thanks to LatterDayMommy.com for the image.

Yes. To  me, politics is all about doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time. And, because we live in this experiment called democracy, what appears right to one person does not necessarily seem so right to the next. And so compromise, negotiation, is born. We converse, we share ideas, we give and take. Ideally. 

Theoretically. 

In August I received this missive from the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit I’ve been supporting monthly for nearly two years. (I wrote about how I made my contribution choices in this post from December, 2016.) 

ACLU
Hi Janet –
When Customs and Border Protection agents pulled Zainab Merchant aside for extra screening in her hometown airport, they told her: “When you fly, you sign off all your rights. Do what you want, get a lawyer, get the courts involved… but you’ll never be able to get off.”

A Muslim woman who wears a hijab, Zainab faces invasive, humiliating security screenings every time she flies. TSA and CBP agents conduct warrantless searches of her cell phone and laptop, and have monitored what she says online. They have asked about her religion and whether she knows anyone in ISIS. Agents have insisted on searching her groin area, poked and prodded at her body, and have looked at private photos of her on her phone without the hijab she wears for religious reasons. Zainab doesn’t know why she must undergo these humiliating searches – because the government refuses to tell her.

Add your name to demand that Homeland Security, which oversees TSA and CBP, to stop these excessive and dehumanizing searches – and implement measures to ensure that everyone can travel free from unlawful harassment and abuse.

Zainab is the founder and CEO of a multimedia site about current affairs, politics, and culture. She’s a U.S. citizen, mother to three young children, and a graduate student at Harvard University, which requires her to travel frequently.

But these airport security screenings have forced Zainab to make significant personal and professional sacrifices. She and her husband, who bonded over their love of travel, now avoid flying as a family so their children don’t have to see their parents demeaned by the TSA. And because of the invasive screenings Zainab faces every time she flies, she decided not to enroll in courses at Harvard during the fall of 2017.

We recently filed a complaint with DHS on Zainab’s behalf, but we need the power of the public to make it clear that we won’t tolerate this cruel treatment of passengers. 

Add your name now to make clear that we have rights in U.S. airports.

Zainab has repeatedly requested an explanation for why TSA and CBP subject her to additional scrutiny and abuse, but they’ve never given her a clear answer. Individual TSA and CBP officers have dismissed her questions or told her, incorrectly, that she lacks legal rights at checkpoints or in inspection areas.If Zainab’s experience is any indication, ending this abuse is going to require all of us to speak out. 

Sign the petition now.

Thanks for taking action,
Hina Shamsi
Director of the ACLU National Security Project

Often letters like this one get deleted; there are simply too many and my brain distrusts everything when it’s on overload. But this letter reached me.

My initial outrage was subtle; I signed the petition and planned this blog post about it. But my outrage exploded when, checking for updates prior to  scheduling the post, I Googled “Zainab Merchant.” That brought me to the original suit filed by the ACLU, which gave a fuller story. It gave details of each humiliating security screening. I’d link to it here, but for some reason I’m prevented. I imagine you can find it too if you look. 

I am outraged that people who work for my US government, who represent my government, who answer to my government and are paid by my government could be so callous, so dehumanizing, so mean. I hope you are too. I hope you’ve signed their petition, and if not yet, here’s another chance.

Sign the petition now.

The ACLU asked me to share this on my various social media sites. I thought I would do better. I don’t have thousands following me, as a few of you do, but I do have hundreds. And if each of us could share as we are able, the story will get the visibility it deserves. The visibility it needs.

Please. I believe in the inherent goodness of the average person. I hold fast to the hope that as more people realize these types of things are going on, more outrage will be shown and this outrage, focused and controlled,  will lead to change. Remember, the midterms are coming up. I trust you plan to vote.

Now it’s time for me to go sit quietly for awhile and collect myself.

How about you? What turns on your moral outraged? 

20 Responses

  1. susan scott
    | Reply

    I signed and shared Janet even though I don’t live in the US. That behaviour is inexcusable anywhere, anytime. You are right to make this as much known as possible. Sometimes I feel shame at being a human. Every action is a political statement, whether buying plastic bottled water, food stuffs that contain palm oil, using harmful pesticides – a kind of rape.

    I feel for and am outraged for all in the US and everywhere who are forced to submit in any way. My thoughts are with Zainab Merchant and may she know that she has the full support and moral outrage of all who hears her story.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Susan. Yes indeed, “every action is a political statement” — I love that. Our biggest problems are universal and I am blessed to have met a kindred spirit from the other side of the globe. Human connection/contact seems to me even more important than usual during these times.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When the Merely Political becomes Morally OutrageousMy Profile

  2. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to live Zainab’s life, having experienced what she has here in the land of the free, home of the brave. I, too, am appalled that people “who are paid by my government could be so callous, so dehumanizing, so mean.” Where do they get off on being so awful? How do they live with themselves? Of course, I believe that some people are wired to be evil, do wrong, be cruel, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But still… morally incomprehensible.
    Ally Bean recently posted…The Great Cobbler Debacle Of 2018 + 12 Fruit-Based Desserts ExplainedMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Ally. Thanks for your thoughts here; they’ve got me remembering those old social psych experiments in the post-WWII era when Americans and others were looking for an explanation for how the Germans could have done such horrendous deeds. They thought it must be “national character.” But the Stanley Milgrim and Soloman Asch experiments over the years showed quite clearly that we are all, under the “right” conditions, capable of unexpected cruelty. It’s sobering and continues to give me pause.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When the Merely Political becomes Morally OutrageousMy Profile

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — No matter how you slice it, the actions taken by the government workers are inexcusable. Thank you for sharing this on your platform. Thank you for making it easy for your readers to sign and share the petition.
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Do You SISU?My Profile

  4. Merril D. Smith
    | Reply

    Signed and shared, too. Like you, I support the ACLU, but I’m also overwhelmed, and usually don’t read their e-mails (or the ones I get from other organizations).
    My “Musings” this week got political, too.
    Merril D. Smith recently posted…Early Morning MoonMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Merril. Yes, feeling overwhelmed is common I’m hearing; so easy to fall into it. And vigilance, what I called for almost two years ago now, is exhausting. But at least we’re in good company. I wish I had more hope in the midterms; I don’t. Heard the NPR story today on released felons winning back the vote and one man who had worked to get the right to vote returned to him, didn’t think he’d be voting this November. WHAT? Shaking him is probably not the most effective means of reaching him, huh?
      Janet Givens recently posted…When the Merely Political becomes Morally OutrageousMy Profile

  5. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I’m just finishing Tara Westover’s Educated. In it she quotes from Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?” which seems to fit your topic today. A partial answer here: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1272757-when-life-itself-seems-lunatic-who-knows-where-madness-lies

  6. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Signed!

  7. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Oh, this is awful, Janet. Thanks for enlightening us and bringing it home. I signed the petition.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Kathy. I thank you for signing the petition. And for stopping by. I know you’ve been on a blogging break this month. I look forward to your return, though good selection on the reposts. Some days I feel as though the ground under my feet has fallen away; then I remember that it’s an illusion anyway. I’d love to hear from Zainab on how she is managing, coping, continuing. She’s a writer, so I expect when this nightmare is over, we will learn more. Welcome home.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When the Merely Political becomes Morally OutrageousMy Profile

  8. Frank V. Moore
    | Reply

    Shared this post on Facebook. Hope it generates more signatures and shares.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Frank. That was a really lovely intro to it too.

      For my readers here, you might check out Frank’s FB page. (The one with the cartoonish photo ID) He posts really interesting links to articles on science and space and space science and, oh yes, politics. All highly reliable. And all interesting. And all public.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When the Merely Political becomes Morally OutrageousMy Profile

  9. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, it seems every other thing I see or read these days triggers some level of moral outrage in me. One of the worst parts is knowing that this is exactly what is intended. Narcissism’s power is constructing games in which there are landmines under the opponent’s every possible move. White nationalism outrages me to no end. Outright lying by public officials. Blatant disregard for the common good and our planet in order to benefit the few. And the fact that so many people are seemingly okay throwing our Constitution and system of government for nothing more than a pocket full of beans. There are so, so many . . .

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Tim. There are so many, indeed. I’ve been following Jennifer Hofmann’s Action Lists (https://jenniferhofmann.com/) for nearly two years. She knows we can’t can’t fight every justified battle and she helps me negotiate which ones I’ll take on. I know I can’t stay in moral outrage without doing myself great physical harm (from an ulcer to a nervous breakdown). Each week she sends out a list of a variety of actions one can take, depending on which value you feel most aligned with at that time. I like the option to write thank you notes. It’s positive and keeps me from feeling weighed down with pessimism. Some weeks this is easier than other weeks. And some weeks it’s impossible.

      I hold fast to the idea that at the core of this division in our country is fear. When I take the high road, when I’m feeling particularly mature, I can empathize; we all feel fear, it’s a core human emotion. And my fear enables me to better understand others’ fear too. Does that make sense?

      I like your sentence, “Narcissism’s power is constructing games in which there are landmines under the opponent’s every possible move.” And knowing this, I think we can guard ourselves against it. The media seems quite willing to blow with the wind, reporting on each Tweet, each lie, each landmine. I’ve taken to only reading the Times and the Post’s headlines. I get reports from The Brookings Institute and missives from SPLC and ACLU (plus all the environmental ones!) and feel pretty much up on what’s happening. Fortunately, they also report good stuff. I hold tight to that. And, for the record, I am afraid to be optimistic going into the midterms. Thanks for swinging by.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When the Merely Political becomes Morally OutrageousMy Profile

  10. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    What turns on my moral outrage? Everything Trump says or tweets.

    Happy New Year, Janet!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Janet. I’ve had to severely cut back on how much media I ingest, and limit my sources too. Thanks for joining us today. (Happy New Year)
      Janet Givens recently posted…How Do You Enter A Room?My Profile

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